May 13, 2007, - 12:11 pm
By Debbie Schlussel
Happy Mother’s Day, Mom!
I found it interesting to learn that–despite all the hits and contracts put out on people, despite all the absolute disrespect for life and limb–even Vito Corleone, Tony Soprano, and their real-life counterparts, the men of Cosa Nostra, take the day off from all of that . . . for Mom. Organized crime, murder, and violence 364 days of the year. But on Mother’s Day, Fuhgedaboutit.
From AP’s Larry McShane:
Each and every Mother’s Day until he landed behind bars, mobster Jimmy “The Gent” Burke performed a sacrosanct ritual.
Burke, the mastermind behind the $5.8 million Lufthansa heist immortalized in Goodfellas, dropped a few C-notes on dozens of red roses. He then toured the homes of his jailed New York Luchese crime family pals, providing their mothers with a bouquet and a kiss.
He never missed a year, or a mom.
Burke’s gesture was no surprise to his fellow hoodlums. Mother’s Day was the most important Sunday on the organized crime calendar, when homicide took a holiday and racketeering gave way to reminiscing – often over a plate of mom’s pasta and gravy.
“These guys, they do have a love for their mothers,” said Joe Pistone, the FBI undercover agent who spent six Mother’s Days inside the Bonanno family as jewel thief Donnie Brasco. “They thought nothing of killing. But the respect for their mothers? It was amazing.”
So amazing, Pistone recalled, that Bonanno member Benjamin “Lefty Guns” Ruggiero once told him that the Mafia – like a suburban Jersey mall shuttered by blue laws – closed for business when Mother’s Day arrived each May.
No vendettas or broken bones. Just gift baskets and boxes of candy.
“Absolutely,” said mob informant Henry Hill, who described his old friend Burke’s annual rite. “It’s Mother’s Day, you know?”
The bond between gangsters and their mothers is more sacred than the oath of omerta and more complex than anything imagined by Oedipus. Pistone watched murderers suddenly grow misty when discussing their moms – or her meals.
“They’re not embarrassed to say how much they love their mother,” said Pistone, author of the new memoir Unfinished Business. “I can remember guys talking about cooking: ‘My mom made the best braciole.’ Or ‘My mother taught me how to make this sauce.’ ”
Mob heavyweight Al Capone – a man who never needed a restaurant reservation during his Roaring ’20s reign atop the Chicago underworld – preferred his mother’s spaghetti with meat sauce, heavy on the cheese. (Capone’s sentimentality didn’t extend to other holidays. On Feb. 14, 1929, he orchestrated the submachine-gun slayings of seven rival bootleggers in the infamous St. Valentine’s Day Massacre.)
Capone wasn’t alone in his mismatched emotions of warm maternal love and cold homicidal rage. Genovese family boss Vincent “The Chin” Gigante shared a Greenwich Village apartment with his ninetysomething mother, Yolanda, even as he ruthlessly directed the nation’s most powerful organized crime operation during the ’80s and ’90s.
New England capo Vincent “The Animal” Ferrara did a 16-year prison stretch for racketeering, getting out of prison just two years ago. His first trip as a free man: a visit to his 90-year-old mother. . . .
Mobbed-up kids often had their affection reciprocated from mothers blinded by love to mounting evidence of their offspring’s larcenous lifestyles.
Philadelphia gangster Angelo “Buddha” Lutz was arrested in 2001 on racketeering charges – and released on $150,000 bail when his mom put up her house as collateral.
Mob matriarch Victoria Gotti went even further for her son, John “Junior” Gotti, offering her $715,000 home up for his bail. When Junior went on trial three times in the last two years for racketeering, Victoria appeared in court each time – even as defense lawyers admitted that he once headed the Gambino crime family.
“If you’re the president or a gangster, that has nothing to do with a mother’s love,” Pistone said. “I think that’s one of the main reasons for their bond.”
When authorities last year dropped the charges against Junior, the mob scion – his father was the late “Dapper Don” John Gotti – repaid his mom’s devotion. Gotti spent Thanksgiving Day at Victoria’s hospital bedside after she suffered a stroke.
For some, like Robert Spinelli, love of Mom complicated their chosen profession. Spinelli served as the getaway driver after his brother and a second man tried to kill the sister of mob informant “Big Pete” Chiodo, but he was stricken with guilt over the shooting.
At his 1999 sentencing, Spinelli stood with tears streaming down his face when recounting the botched hit against Patricia Capozzalo, who had just dropped her two children off at school.
“She reminded me of my mother,” the weepy gangster confessed before getting a 10-year jail term.
Hill, speaking from his current home somewhere on the West Coast, recalled that Jimmy Burke attached particular importance to Mother’s Day because he was abandoned by his own parents at age 2. Hill also recalled how his hot-tempered pal wasn’t so dewy-eyed one day later.
“He’d kiss all the mothers on Sunday,” Hill said. “And then the next day, he’d kill their husbands.”
I suppose it’s logical that the Mafia would take the day off for Mom. After all, they were, indeed, very pro-family: the Gambino Family, the Genovese Family, the Lucchese Family, the Bonanno Family, etc., etc., etc.
I’m off to my parents to give my mom a Mother’s Day card she can’t refuse. (Just kidding about the “can’t refuse” part.)
Tags: Al Capone, Angelo "Buddha" Lutz, author, author of the new memoir Unfinished Business, Bonanno, Chicago, Debbie Schlussel Happy, Donnie Brasco, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Henry Hill, Jersey mall, Jimmy Burke, Joe Pistone, John "Junior" Gotti, Larry McShane, Mother's Day, New England, New York Luchese, Patricia Capozzalo, Philadelphia, President, Refuse Burke, Robert Spinelli, stroke, Thanksgiving, Tony Soprano, USD, Victoria Gotti, Vincent, Vito Corleone, West Coast, Yolanda